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When New York architect Maya Madison took her place among the five panelists discussing issues facing Black architects at the conference NOMA 50: Detroit Homecoming Virtual Conference and Gala Weekend on October 21, she had not realized how thought-provoking the event would be. 

Madison, an architect at Moody Nolan, said, "I never imagined that I would learn so much myself, or that I would leave so personally inspired." She added, “As one of the younger people in the room, I really appreciated seeing the diversity of success represented by the panelists."

Madison is a third-generation architect — both of her parents, her great uncle, and grandfather are all architects, and her great grandfather was an engineer. So Madison was ideally positioned to speak to the evening's theme. Joining her were Rod Hemni, HKIT Architects design director and former NOMA board member, Curt Moody, founder of Moody Nolan, Saundra Little, Quinn Evans Architects Principal and co-founder of Noir Design Parti, and Paola Moya, CEO and founder of Moya Architects and Moya Design Partners.


NOMA President Jason Pugh kicked off the event. Photo © Kai Brown

Moderated by Imani Day, a Detroit-based architect and founder of the design research practice RVSN Studios, the night began with a welcome by NOMA's president Jason Pugh, followed by a video from Moody, who was unable to attend. He reflected on the past, present, and the future of NOMA's 50-year legacy. Moody started his company 40 years ago, and recalls, “I truly benefited from what the NOMA founders envisioned as to how we could help one another in this field of architecture and engineering." Following his talk, each of the panelists shared personal stories and career paths, key accomplishments, and how NOMA has helped them along the way. The panelists also talked about the entrepreneurial spirit and what that means as well as being a leader – both in and out of the workplace – and finding comfort and confidence in one's skin color, identity, and race. 

When the conversation turned to some of the most important lessons of benefit to the panelists Henmi confessed, "There is a difference between confidence and arrogance, and I didn't understand the value of cooperation and having a lot of voices involved in the work I do." 

Madison told the room that when she started at the university, she learned that disparities between Black architects and white ones truly exist. It was something that she had been unaware of, having been surrounded by family members in the profession for her entire life. "It's why NOMA has been so important to me as find my people outside of my family," she explained. 

Panelist Saundra Little expressed hope that the panel discussion would become a catalyst for continued candid conversations among NOMA members. "Personally, it's just the basic art of having conversations with others and exploring how that helps provide a chance for mentorships and business development," she said.

The wide variety of perspectives and the honest, open dialogue made the evening a success–an excellent kickoff to the days that followed. 

Editor’s note: RECORD’s coverage of NOMA’s 50th anniversary is a two-part series. For an overview of its four-day conference and Freelon 2021 Award winners, click here.